Wednesday, May 29, 2013

OCD and getting help when help is needed

Yes, the nurse had noticed my hands. And she had told the doctor about them.
That scared me. I didn’t want the doctor to mention my hands. I didn’t want to tell him about my hand washing.

Janet at ocdtalk wrote a wonderful post this week about “OCD and Early Treatment Experiences.” In her post, Janet writes about the troubles many people with OCD have when seeking help for the first time.
Her post resonated with me and brought back some memories of my own early attempts to get help for my OCD.
I suffered from obsessions and compulsions for years before I ever got treatment. My first symptoms appeared when I was a girl. When I was a teenager, I read a magazine article about OCD and recognized myself in it. But I remained silent. I told no one about my strange thoughts and compulsive habits.
Of course, my parents noticed some of my compulsive habits, especially the copious amounts of water I ran whenever I washed my hands. But they didn’t seem to connect the actions with anything other than me being wasteful and a problem.
Apparently the only thing my mother told my pediatrician was that I was crying a lot and tired, as I wrote about in a post about being a child with OCD and depression.
That’s behind me now. Perhaps my mother had no vocabulary to use to explain her daughter’s strange actions. Perhaps she was just afraid of what was going on with me.
Once I became an adult, I was no better an advocate for myself. And that brings me to a memory that came to me when I read the ocdtalk post.
When I was in my early twenties, in graduate school, I visited Student Health. I didn’t have health insurance, and I could be seen at Student Health with my student ID for a low fee.
If I am remembering correctly, I was there because of my ears. They seemed to get blocked with wax a lot. Or so it seemed. I wanted the doctor to check them.
It wasn’t the first time I went to the doctor for my ears. I see now that picking at my ears was a compulsion of mine. I was obsessed over the possibility of them getting blocked and muffling my hearing. So I picked at them and then had them checked at the doctor’s office to make sure they weren’t blocked. It was OCD at work.
On this particular visit, the nurse had taken me into the exam room. I don’t remember, but she probably asked me the reason for my visit and went through the usual pre-exam routine.
I don’t remember how I happened to see her walk down the hall after she left the exam room. But I remember looking down the hallway and seeing her walking with the doctor. She was pointing to her hands and talking.
I immediately grasped (perhaps incorrectly, but I don’t think so) that she was telling the doctor about my hands.
My hands.
From about three inches above my wrists to my fingertips, my hands were red. They were chapped and dry and raw looking. Here and there were little spots of dried blood.
I knew what was wrong with my hands. I washed them compulsively, soaping them up repeatedly with each hand washing, running hot water over them.
I didn’t use hand lotion because that might contaminate them, I thought.
Yes, the nurse had noticed my hands. And she had told the doctor about them.
That scared me. I didn’t want the doctor to mention my hands. I didn’t want to tell him about my hand washing.
When the doctor came in, he didn’t say anything about my hands at first. He was kind and looked in my ears.
My memories were fuzzy about this for a while. I had to go back in time in my mind and picture what happened. I remembered that he did say something about my hands. He asked me about them.
I lied to him. I told him I forgot to use lotion and the cold and windy weather wreaked havoc on them.
I missed the opportunity to tell him about the extreme anxiety that drove me to wash my hands over and over.
And what would have happened if he had asked again after hearing my lie? What if he had suspected that hands that raw looking weren’t just chapped from the cold and wind?
I’ll never know, and that’s OK. I eventually did get help.

But what concerns me is the possibility that there are others with OCD who are too afraid to talk with their doctors, but who may have signs like my red hands that the doctors don’t address. It concerns me that parents may not know what to do about their children’s symptoms. It concerns me that people may tell their doctors about their OCD symptoms, but the doctors don’t know what to do with that information.

Because of my concerns, I will continue to do as Janet advocates in her post: educate others about OCD and encourage those with OCD and their families.

Do you have OCD or think you do? Are you a family member or friend of someone with OCD? One information source is the website of the International OCD Foundation. Their Find Help page offers multiple resources.

Why do you think it’s so hard to discuss certain things with our doctors?

28 comments:

  1. really glad that eventually you got the help you needed. i am sorry the doctor did not press further.

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    1. Thanks, Theresa. Perhaps he was uncomfortable with pushing the subject.

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  2. I could just feel your childhood anxiety.

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    1. Thank you for your understanding, Sharon.

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  3. I am so glad you were able to speak and get the help you needed, Tina. Some doctors are just not very good listeners, sadly, and don't pursue matters of high significance.

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    1. Thank you, Linda. I agree--some doctors are not good listeners, and sometimes that is really what patients need.

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  4. It is so hard to talk to a doctor. I have hidden things before too. I'm glad you were eventually able to open up and get some help!

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    1. Thanks, Lisa. I wonder why it's sometimes difficult to talk with doctors? I think sometimes I feel like I don't want to take up too much of his or her time.

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  5. My heart goes out to you. I have special needs children. Each one has some aspect of OCD. My daughters is a picker. While we seek help, nothing, thus far, has helped. It helps to read your story. You are brave to share it and I thank you.

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    1. Jill, thank you. I am so sorry that your children experience OCD and that help is elusive. If I can be of any assistance in finding help, let me know.

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  6. I was right there with you in your story, Tina, and could feel your anxiety about talking about your hands. I so want to believe things are better for OCD sufferers now, but I know that's not always the case....thanks for keeping the discussion going!

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    1. Thank you, Janet, for getting the discussion started! :-) You have a lot of insight into what the issues are, and I appreciate that.

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  7. I think you are very courageous to write about these things Tina. I have a lot of respect for you.

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    1. Thank you, Keith, I appreciate your kind words.

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  8. This is a wonderfully encouraging post, Tina. Thank you for writing it. I've hidden some important things from doctors overvthe years too. Sharing is so hard sometimes.

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    1. Thank you, Mary. I'm glad you found it encouraging. Sharing with a doctor is hard at time. I think for me, part of it is embarrassment and part is thinking that I'm "bothering" the doctor.

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  9. Great great post.

    I remember in college when my anxiety and OCD were so terrible that all I could do was get myself to my classes and get right back home and that took everything out of me. Anyway, I went to student health during that time for some reason (probably an OCD health fear) but I can't remember the "reason" I used to get in. The real thing I wanted to ask my doctor about was what I saved for the end of the appointment.

    I said to her "When I try to go to sleep at night, I can't. I just hear my heart beating in my ears and I can't make it go away and I can't get comfortable and I can't sleep."

    I didn't exactly know why I was telling her that or what I wanted from her but it had gotten really bad at that time and I was scared my heart would jump out of my chest.

    Her reply? She looked at my chart and said, "Your blood pressure is excellent so it should be fine. Don't worry about it."

    That was a missed opportunity, wasn't it, Tina?

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    1. Oh, Elizabeth, was that ever a missed opportunity! I'm so sorry that that was the response of the doctor. You were giving her symptoms of anxiety and OCD--or at least, symptoms that were concerning. Thank you for sharing your story, and I'm glad that you have gotten help since then!

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  10. You constantly sharing your story with others is helping - you are getting the word out there. I've learned a great deal about OCD simply by reading your blog, and I know that I can take this info with me.

    You write, you share, people receive and learn, and pass it along. That's all good, in my book :)

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    1. Amanda, thank you so much for your encouraging words. I do want to get the word out, and I appreciate your help in doing that.

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  11. As with any condition linked to mental health, there is a stigma attached to it, unfortunately. Discussing it openly with a doctor is so difficult the first time -- I'm glad that you share your experiences Tina. xo

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    1. Thanks, Nancy. Yes, that first discussion is probably the hardest.

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  12. Reading about your suffering from OCD is educating us all, Tina. I think you are incredibly brave to write so openly and honestly about your struggles and challenges. I'm in total agreement that doctors miss the signs- especially in children. My niece has already learned how to fool her therapist at the age of 10.
    Keep sharing! It's so important that the stigma attached to these illnesses be erased.
    Hugs, T.

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    1. Thanks so much, Tina. When I was a child, it was particularly important for me to hide the signs of OCD. I hope your niece can get the help she needs from her therapist.

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  13. your strong, knowledgable voice and entries like these, will go a long way in educating others!!

    it's really wonderful that you are able to share these sometimes painful stories!!

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    1. Thank you, Debbie. I appreciate your support!

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  14. I can so relate to this, Tina. I remember trying to hide my symptoms. The Summer of 1996 was when things really fell apart for me and my hands were extremely red and raw about halfway up my forearms. It looked awful and I'm sure it was noticeable to others.

    Thanks for being an advocate for all of us. So, so many people are not getting the proper treatment and it makes me so sad.

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    1. Thank you, Sunny. It makes me sad, too. I am so grateful that I have been able to get help.

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